The Searsport fire chief has been charged in connection with an alleged embezzlement, after his domestic partner allegedly stole more than $11,000 from a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Searsport Fire Department.
Andrew Webster, who has served as the chief of the small town fire department since 2012, has been charged with receiving stolen property. Gina Philbrick, 43, who lives with Webster at their home on Dixmont Road in Monroe, has been charged with felony theft by deception.
The chief recently was suspended from his position pending the completion of an investigation.
Last month, Searsport police began looking into a suspicion that money had gone missing from the Barney Hose Association, a charitable organization that raises funds through donations and events that are used to support scholarships, buy Christmas presents for children in need and other worthy causes.
Philbrick was treasurer of the group, according to an arrest affidavit written by Officer James Greeley of the Searsport Police Department. She, Webster and two other people were authorized users of the Barney Hose bank account, held at Bangor Savings Bank. One of the other authorized users told police that there was an $8,000 shortfall between what Philbrick reported was in the organization’s coffers and what was actually in the account.
According to the affidavit, the group’s bylaws mandated that anytime someone wanted to withdraw more than $100 from the Barney Hose bank account, they needed to get it approved by a vote. Although no votes had taken place, police saw that several checks of $1,000 or more had been drawn and deposited in a USAA bank account.
The bank asked the four authorized users to come in and verify their signatures, Greeley wrote. At this point, Philbrick allegedly told the others that she had accidentally written the checks and intended to write them from her own account at Bangor Savings Bank. One of the others told her that in that case she should be able to pay Barney Hose back and make it right.
“Philbrick told him that she was unable to do this and would have to take a second job to pay the money back,” Greeley wrote.
Altogether, police allege that beginning in January 2021, Philbrick had written checks to herself that totaled $11,600. Greeley wrote that she admitted to writing those checks with no authorization to do so.
Searsport fire chief has been suspended
Chief Andrew Webster has been suspended from the department pending the completion of an investigation, according to town officials.
Police arrested her Thursday and took her to Waldo County Jail to be booked. She was released on $10,000 unsecured cash bail, Greeley said.
Philbrick allegedly deposited at least some of the money into a joint checking account and business account she shared with Webster, Greeley said. He has been charged with receiving stolen property, a class C felony charge. Information about Webster’s charge and involvement was not yet available at the Waldo Judicial Center Friday morning.
As of Friday morning, Webster remained suspended from his position at the Searsport Fire Department. Town Manager James Gillway said the town selectboard will address his appointment in executive session on Tuesday, July 5.
Webster, when reached by phone Friday morning, said he had no comment about the situation but that an attorney was “working on it.”
Howard Wells, the Searsport assistant fire chief and a board member of the Barney Hose Association, said Friday that the alleged theft has been shocking and distressing to those involved with the fire department and the charitable group.
The other members have been cooperating with the Searsport Police Department, he said.
Greeley called the alleged embezzlement “a big deal.”
“If I’m a Searsport resident, and I’m giving generously to this association, and I’ve found out that the money has been misappropriated, I’m going to be upset,” he said.
The board of the charitable group has been swift to make changes to its bylaws to prevent this from happening again. Two members will be required to sign checks now, Wells said.
“We’re making the proper steps to ensure we are protecting the assets of the town,” Wells said. “This is definitely a rough time that we’re going through right now. I feel that Barney Hose as an organization — and the fire department we’re attached to — will bounce back.”
The allegations shouldn’t reflect on the department or the organization as a whole, Wells said.
“As for our fire service, this does not change how we are here for our community. This does not reflect who Searsport Fire and Barney Hose really are,” Wells said.